Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Preaching Materials for October 5, 2008

R U M O R S #521
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

September 28, 2008


"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

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Next Week’s Readings – a troublesome allegory
Rumors – poor old Pericles
Soft Edges –
We Get Letters – you’re next
Mirabile Dictu! – a comfy mattress
Bottom of the Barrel – the sound of music
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This tidbit could have a hundred different punch lines. Put in the name of your own denomination where I’ve put mine.
A kindergarten teacher asked the students to bring something that was related to their religion to class. At the appropriate time, she asked the children to come forward and share with the rest of the students.
The first child said, "I am Muslim and this is my prayer rug."
The second child said, "I am Jewish and this is my Star of David."
The third child said, "I am Catholic and this is my rosary."
The final child said, "I am United Church and this is my casserole."

Next Week’s Readings – If your church uses the Revised Common Lectionary, these are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, October 5, 2008 which is Proper 22 [27].

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 – The legend has it that Moses carried the tablets containing the Ten Commandments down the mountain. That’s what Charlton Heston did in the movie – although his tablets were made of Styrofoam. The legendary Moses must have had the muscles of an Olympic weight-lifter. Is there such a thing as spiritual sterioids?
Everyone says they obey the commandments Moses dragged down that mountain, but very few (me included) can recite all ten. And the ones we remember, we get wrong. Such as; “Humor they father and they mother.”
The verses left out of the reading are elaborations on the commandments. Apparently the folks who designed the lectionary thought we had a short attention span. They were probably right.
In spite of what some folks claim, the gospel of Christ doesn’t make these commandments unnecessary. It is true, that if you genuinely love God, you don’t need commandments, but few of us are able to live in that love consistently. And we need rules for some very practical reasons.
Living without some rules would be like suggesting that we need no traffic laws. Everyone will simply be polite and considerate. Can you imagine the gridlock? Can you imagine a four-way stop intersection where there is no rule about who goes first? Can you imagine a family with no ground rules?
So we need rules. In fact we live by far more rules than we realize. The trick, I suppose, is to have as few rules and possible, and make those really, really simple. Of course, that would put a lot of lawyers out of business.

Psalm 19 -- paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Feeling Anger
1 Quarks and electrons, crystals and cells;
stems and trunks and limbs and bodies--
2 on the land, in the water, in the air--
the elements of the universe wait to expand our understanding.
3 Rocks have no words, nor do cells have syllables,
4 yet their message can be read anywhere.
Even the fiery stars,
5 racing at unimaginable speeds through space,
6 yield their secrets to those willing to probe the limits of God's universe.
7 And what do they find?
An underlying harmony, a delicate equilibrium
built on the value of every thing,
living or inanimate, past, present, and future.
8 There are no exceptions.
No one is above the law of interdependence.
9 Life dies and becomes new life;
spirit and flesh are one.
My fate is inextricably linked to yours,
and our fate to the trees and insects.
10 This is the beginning of wisdom.
It is better than wealth, more valuable than possessions.
11 Awareness of it will change you forever.
12 But we are too often blind;
we close our ears to the voices of the winds and the waves, to the insights of the rocks and the plants.
13 God, keep us from thinking we know it all;
human minds cannot encompass eternity;
an assembly of facts does not equal truth.
14 Keep us always open to wonder, to beauty, to mystery,
O greatest of mysteries.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Philippians 3:4b-14 – Here’s Paul bragging about his “credentials.” But then he says he regards them all as “rubbish.” I think the original Greek word referred to something more smelly.
The only validity Paul has is his faith in Christ, and his struggle to live that faith. It’s a tough job, and I find it comforting that even St. Paul had trouble getting it right.
It begs the question – what credentials do we have to talk about matters of faith?

The Story – Getting It Right -- Matthew 21:33-46


Some Christians read this parable as an allegory – that the tenants are the Jews, but they didn’t produce for the landowner and killed his slaves (i.e. prophets) and even his son (i.e. Jesus).
So God took the “vineyard” away from them and gave it to us, the Christians.
That may well have been the original intent of the story, in which case we shouldn’t try to turn it into something else. The problem is, some pretty rank anti-Semitism has been, and still is justified by this parable.
OK, so for the sake of argument, let’s just accept that understanding of this story. The Jews messed up their mandate. Have we Christians done any better? You’d have a tough sell trying to convince me of that.
Are we all tarred with the same brush? Because some Jews and some Christians have mangled their mandate, are all of us guilty?
And is God’s love contingent on getting our theology right?
Ralph Milton

A children’s version of the story of the Ten Commandments is found in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 213. A paraphrase of Psalm 19 is on page 215. The story based on the reading from Matthew is on page 216.
If you don’t already own a copy of “The Lectionary Story Bible,” click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.” Year A and Year B are now available. Year C will be out next spring.


Rumors – Before creeping decrepitude and escalating costs made us stop, Bev and I would find ourselves in Ashland, Oregon, at the Shakespeare festival every two or three years.
We saw many, many memorable performances. One that I particularly enjoyed was “Pericles.” If you are a Shakespeare aficionado, you’ll know that it’s not one of Willie’s best. The plot might have been dreamed up by a 13-year-old romantic.
Some scholars claim it’s only the last part that the old bard wrote himself. Or that someone else wrote the thing and Shakespeare just tarted it up a little. Reading it before the performance, I was underwhelmed. If we hadn’t already bought the tickets, I don’t think I’d have gone.
Talk about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The theatrical artists in Ashland had this old sot dribbling tears into his gray beard. An Elizabethan soap opera was turned into a moving parable of family love.
Rather than cynically picking the play apart, as I did in my reading, those actors put themselves fully into the story and were able to find the power and meaning and tenderness that was there under a plot that strains your credibility to the breaking point.
Those who have ears to see and hear, will receive the gift.
From time to time (Probably way too often!) you’ve heard me express my impatience with the way some biblical scholars, those on the far right and those on the far left, miss the point of the holy story.
Pericles is not scripture, by any stretch of the imagination, but my approach to it missed the point of it all, in the same way. Any half-baked scholar can pick all kinds of holes in Pericles.
It’s an old Greek legend, and not a very good one either. Shakespeare’s telling is full of anachronisms. But those artists in Ashland stopped my nit-picking, took me inside the story, and it spoke to my heart first, and then later on in reflecting on it, to my mind.
Biblical scholars on the far right and on the far left make the same basic mistake. They focus on the history, one side claiming it is all historical fact and the other side claiming hardly any of it is. The argument is interesting, but it’s a side issue. And if we focus on those questions, we tend to miss the voice of God speaking to our hearts first, then secondly to our minds, from deep inside the story.
If we let the story into our hearts, let it soak into our psyche, then we can go back and consider, if we really must, how much is history and how much is not. Our answer to the historicity question may enrich, but it will not alter, our encounter with God who speaks to us from deep inside the story.
It feels dangerous to do that. You are no longer in control when you park your analytical anxiety and just allow yourself to move inside a story. It takes trust. Trust in the story. Trust in the storyteller. It takes courage too – courage to sell everything you have. In the end, you may find the pearl of great price. Or you may not.
The story told in Matthew of the master and the servants in the vineyard can easily lead us into futile argument about the relative faithfulness of the Jewish and Christian communities. Inevitably we compare the best of our own tradition with the worst of the other’s.
Possibly the story might work for us if we allow it to speak to our own lives – about our tending of the vineyard of the life God has given us.
That could be interesting. And frightening!


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has a stronger political-social justice content. If you’d like to receive Sharp Edges, send Jim a note at the address above. Or go to Jim’s web page at: . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – from the file
* The Passing of the Peach. . .* Church of Fatter Day Saints ...* Evangelical Fee Church ....
If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me.


Wish I’d Said That! – There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn't matter who gets the credit.
Ralph Waldo Emerson via Evelyn McLachlan

For certain people, after fifty, litigation takes the place of sex.
Gore Vidal

Just as God courteously forgives our sin after we change our ways, so also does God want us to forgive our sin instead of falling into a false meekness that is really a foul blindness and weakness due to fear.
Julian of Norwich


We Get Letters – Dave Towers writes: A friend told me that when he was younger he hated going to weddings.
It seemed that all his aunts and the grandmotherly types used to come up to him, poke him in the ribs and cackle, telling him, 'You’re next!”
They stopped after he started doing the same thing to them at funerals.


Mirabile Dictu! – This is also from Dave Towers, who advises us to “read slowly. It may take a while for the light to shine.”

* Arbitrator: A cook that leaves Arby's to work at McDonalds
* Avoidable: What a bullfighter tried to do
* Bernadette: The act of torching a mortgage
* Eclipse: What an English barber does for a living
* Eyedropper: A clumsy ophthalmologist
* Heros: What a guy in a boat does
* Misty: How golfers create divots
* Paradox: Two physicians
* Pharmacist: A helper on the farm
* Polarize: What penguins see with
* Relief: What trees do in the spring
* Rubberneck: What you do to relax your wife
* Selfish: What the owner of a seafood store does
* Sudafed: Brought litigation against a government official


Bottom of the Barrel – Somebody sent this to me. In the mix-up with malfunctioning computers the name of that person got lost (John Seveson, maybe?). But rather than feeling guilty, I am claiming a “senior’s moment.”
Maybe it’s just as well I can’t remember. Whoever sent this, should hang his/her/its head in shame.

Bob and Betty Hill were vacationing in Transylvania. Driving along a twisted road late at night, the car went out of control and slammed into a tree.
Bob Hill is dazed. He looks over at Betty. She’s unconscious.
Summoning every bit of strength he has, Bob picks Betty up and carries her to a tiny farmhouse where he sees a light.
He knocks on the door and soon a small, bent-over man answers.
Bob can hardly talk by now, but he blurts out, “My name is Bob Hill and this is my wife Betty Hill. We need help!”
At that, Bob collapses on the floor. “Master!” yells the bent-over man. “These people need help!”
Down the stairs comes a distinguished looking man, with grey hair and a well-trimmed beard. He kneels down beside the couple and checks first one pulse, and then the other. “They are both dead,” he says to the bent-over man. “We’ll take them into the town in the morning.”
With that, the man goes back upstairs. He picks up his flute and begins to play a slow, haunting melody. The bent over man sits down on a chair and stares at the two corpses.
As the music floats down from above, the bent-over man notices something. Bob Hill is moving. Just a little, but he is moving. And then Betty Hill begins to move. Just a little, but she is moving.
“Master! Master!” yells the bent-over man. “The Hills are alive with the sound of music.”

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